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The Yakuza series’ history and why they renamed it Like a Dragon

Kiryu Kazuma and Ichiban Kasuga in Like a Dragon 8

The Like a Dragon game series has one of the most dedicated fanbases in gaming, and they helped the Yakuza franchise become known for both their gritty gameplay and complete absurdity.

At a glance, the games in the Like a Dragon series are about as heavy as they come. The original Yakuza game sees lead character Kiryu Kazuma wind up in the middle of a crime syndicate’s war of succession, and the sequels and prequels all deal with similarly serious themes. Balancing the darkness of the actual story are whimsical mini-games, loads of slapstick comedy, and references to popular manga and anime like Baki the Grappler and Fist of the North Star.

While there is a lot of fun to be had with this series, it’s a difficult one for newcomers to approach due to the sheer number of games in the series as well as the total rebranding that recently happened. Here’s everything there is to know about the Like a Dragon series and the future of Yakuza games.

Are the Yakuza and Like a Dragon series the same?

The Yakuza and Like a Dragon series are the same. 

The Yakuza series was rebranded to Like a Dragon in 2022 after the smashing success of 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Though the series has always been dubbed as “Yakuza” in Western markets, its Japanese name has always been Ryu ga Gotoku which translates to “Like a Dragon.”

All games in the franchise moving forward will have the Like a Dragon name. This started in 2023 with the spin-off installment Like a Dragon: Ishin and will continue with Like a Dragon 8.

Kiryu Kazuma as a monk in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name

Why did they change Yakuza to Like a Dragon?

The Yakuza series being renamed “Like a Dragon” stems from the series’ Japanese name and the success of the Yakuza: Like a Dragon game.

In Japan, the franchise has always been dubbed Ryu ga Gotoku, which stands for “Like a Dragon.” Dropping the Yakuza name allows the Western and Japanese versions of the games to share similar names.

The name change also coincided with a major shift in the gameplay of the series. While past Yakuza games were beat ‘em ups with light RPG elements, Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a turn-based RPG in the same vein as Persona 3 and its remakes. The genre change was controversial but the game was such a critical and commercial success that developer Ryu ga Gotoku Studio and publisher Sega decided to make it a permanent change.

How many Yakuza games are there?

There are eight mainline Yakuza games with a ninth one slated for release in 2024.

The Yakuza series first arrived in the west with the original PS2 title in 2006. It spawned several sequels through Yakuza 5, which was followed by the popular prequel Yakuza 0. Yakuza 0 was released on PS3 and PS4 in Japan, but was only released on PS4 in Western markets. From there, the series moved back to the present day with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.

After years of numbered sequels in western markets, the eighth installment of the series was named Yakuza: Like a Dragon but was named Ryu ga Gotoku 7 in Japan. From there, the series was branded as Like a Dragon, with the next mainline title revealed to be Like a Dragon 8.

Alongside the mainline series are a long list of spin-offs, many of which never actually received a release outside Japan. The Yakuza spin-offs are scattered in every sense, with the games varying wildly in their quality and encompassing numerous video game genres. 

The Japan-only Kurohyo: Ryu ga Gotoku Shinsho is a spin-off set in the Like a Dragon universe that doesn’t follow its major characters, with the Judgment games also falling into that category. Yakuza: Dead Souls and Like a Dragon: Ishin take characters from the mainline titles but transplant them into different settings including a zombie apocalypse and 1860s Japan, respectively. There is even Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, a video game adaptation of the Fist of the North Star series that uses Yakuza Kiwami’s game engine.

Will there be a Yakuza Kiwami 3?

There will not be a Yakuza Kiwami 3, and it is unlikely that any more full remakes of past Yakuza titles will be released in the foreseeable future.

Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2 were remakes of the first installments of the series, released on PlayStation 2. The games featured heavily overhauled combat, as well as additional story content. Both Kiwami games enjoyed strong praise from fans and critics. 

However, the PlayStation 3 games boasted a number of significant improvements in terms of graphics that didn’t necessitate a full remake. Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 instead received remasters with improved graphics and additional content. The games are sold both individually and as a bundle on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2.

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